Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
7 “Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened. 9 Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread? 10 Or give them a snake when they ask for fish? 11 If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. 12 Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:7-12 (CEB)
As many of you probably know, I am in the middle (hopefully) toward the end of finishing little projects in our house to put it on the market. My house was the first house Hope and I bought, and we have put a lot of love into the house. We’ve done a lot of work. Built a large patio off the back, painted, replaced all the light fixtures, updated electrical outlets and switches, of course we painted, just recently I rebuilt two decks on the house, and we had the privilege of being able to replace a septic tank and our HVAC (I know, so lucky).
Another one of our projects is that I replaced all the door latches and locks, and I replaced all the interior doors. This project with the doors is probably the one that took the longest. When we first moved in, I purchased four decorative doors that we were going to use as closet doors. The thing is, I didn’t measure too well, and the doors were too big. Though they were too large to the closet, they were the exact size of the several of our other interior doors. So I put them aside and made plans to install them later. I bought bifold, closet doors that were in the same style as the other doors I had purchased and installed those on three of our closet.
Eventually, after much persuasion from my wife, I got around to installing those original doors. They were just the door slabs, not the prehung ones. I bought a kit, some chisels, and hole saws from the hardware store to help me with the install. I learned very quickly that hanging doors was not my favorite thing.
Here’s the thing about installing doors—if you don’t get it perfect the door won’t swing or close correctly. The second complication that I ran into is that we live in an older home that has settled over the years, and, as such, most of the door frames weren’t plumb. Overall, I hung 14 doors in my house. It really made things look nicer, we’ve got solid core doors for the bedrooms—this was a good improve. But man was hard—and it took a long time. This was the project I would put off before finishing. In fact, I just finished all the doors back in the fall (4 years or so after I started the project).
Doors, have a very important meaning in my life. I spent so much time with doors, that I really appreciate nice doors and doors that installed properly. Doors that open and shut smoothly. Doors mean a lot to me. I know that’s kind of an odd thing, but I like doors—I hope to never hang another door, but I like a nice door.
You know, doors hold a lot of meaning for many people. When I was in seminary I worked at a homeless shelter in heart of downtown Atlanta. This was quite an experience. Most shelters for the homeless either just for men or just for women and children. And the way they are usually set up is that they have these large rooms where people sleep on cots or other beds. There’s really no private space for people in most homeless shelters.
The place I worked at each week very different. This was a shelter, called Genesis, begun in the basement of the Reformed Jewish Temple in Atlanta and in partnership with several Christian Churches. What makes this shelter different is that it is specifically for homeless families with young children. It doesn’t split up fathers and mothers from their kids. One other thing really sets this place apart—doors. Instead of a communal sleeping area, the families each get their own room with a door.
When I was there, I asked by one of the families if I would bless her room. So I did. I was invited in, and prayed a prayer blessing for her space as I would pray a prayer of blessing for a new home. The power of having a door; the security; the comfort.
The door also has power and significance for the church. The United Methodist Church has a slogan that involves a door: Open hearts, open minds, open doors. Having an open door in the church means that all people are welcome regardless of where they come from. All people are welcome in the church regardless of the color of their skin, regardless of their income, regardless of their employment status, regardless of the sexual orientation, regardless immigration or refugee status—open doors means all are welcome in the church.
But this image of the door is much deeper than a slogan used by The United Methodist Church.
You know, over the past few weeks we have been focusing on new beginnings. And something I realized in the midst of this is that the door is one of the most basic images for a new beginning. Each day when you wake up you can’t try anything new, unless you put on your shoes and open the door. The door is this image that marks the beginning of any journey.
In what we read earlier from Matthew 7, Jesus talks about opening a door. In this passage, Jesus is basically talking about prayer and how it’s important to have faith when we pray for good things. As Jesus is talking about prayer, he uses this image of the door and signals to us that all that has to happen for a new beginning is for us to knock and he will open the door.
Often times when people embark or think about embarking on a new thing, it is easy to get overwhelmed. For example, you might be thinking of how you need to lose 40 lbs. And that’s such a huge number; that number looms over your head, overwhelms you and you think is unattainable so why even try. Or maybe you or someone you know is caught in an addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, gambling, or something else. This addiction is so much a part of your life. You may have a dream of being free from addiction, but it’s overwhelming so why even try. Or maybe you are so far in debt that you dodging the calls creditors, and you dream of day when you are debt free. But that’s all it is a dream, because it’s so overwhelming, my even try. You may dream of day when you have a really deep faith, but you can’t figure out how to get there, so you don’t even try.
Change and new things can be so overwhelming, why even try. But in this image of knocking on the door that Jesus gives us, we see that change and new beginnings don’t begin all at once. Just as any trip begins with something so simple as lacing your shoes and opening the door, Jesus’ message to us is that anything new, anything life changing, any new beginning begins with something so simple as knocking.
To begin something new, it doesn’t take knowing all the steps. It doesn’t take having a perfect vision of the final result. It doesn’t take massive will power or massive life change. To being something new, to have a new beginning only takes a knock.
Now there are other steps that will come. There will be other things you have to do to sustain life change and a new beginning, but to begin you don’t need to worry about it, just begin with simplest of actions – knocking. Too often people try to do everything at once, but that’s not the way real change begins.
I think about what we last week that 80% of New Years resolutions fail by the 2nd week of February. So this week it go me to wondering, what are some of the keys to success that those 20% of successful resolutions have in common. Now, I will warn that there is a ton of advice out there. Two of the best pieces of advice are things I found from Forbes, that I think is in keeping with what Jesus is trying to tell us. This is a little of what Forbes recommends:
6. Something is better than nothing. Are you guilty of “all or nothing” thinking? Do you ever think, “Well, I might as well get dessert since I already ate those French fries?” And then, “I blew my diet last night so I’ll just restart it next week.” … The difference between doing something rather than nothing is huge. If you don’t have a full hour to workout at the gym, just decide to make it the best 20-minutes you can. If you stumble out of bed and don’t want to do 20-minutes on the treadmill, lace up your sneakers and do five minutes (and you just might find you do another 15 minutes once the first five are out of the way). … “Any effort towards your goal is better than no effort.”
7. Get up, when you slip up. Legendary coach Vince Lombardi said, “It isn’t whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.” Resiliency is paramount. Don’t turn temporary failures into total meltdowns or excuses for giving up. Instead, just acknowledge the mistake and recommit to the path towards the goal. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2016/12/26/7-secrets-of-people-who-keep-their-new-years-resolutions/#572e37807f7f)
You see, the most successful resolutions begin with something so simple. They don’t try to do everything at one. You might be thinking, well preacher, “you don’t know what I’m going through. You don’t know where I am.” Well that may be true, but this teaching is also true. Real life change, real new beginnings happen with something as simple as knocking and walking through a door.
The Recovery community knows this very well. Many of you know that I was involved with Recovery prior to coming here, and I saw these same principles that Jesus gives us as the tool for real change and real recovery in the lives of so many people. The Recovery community, one of the things we do is pray the serenity prayer. This is a pray that has really impacted with its simplicity and its embodiment of what Jesus teaches. And this prayer speaks to this notion that real change and new beginnings only happen when knocking on a door and walk through it—one day at a time. It recognizes that we can’t change everything at once, but we have to knock and walk through the door each day. The beginning of the prayer says this:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time …
Living one day at a time – When God calls you to a new beginning, God is calling to live one day at a time. Maybe you can’t imagine being 40 lbs lighter, being free of your anxiety, being free of your addiction, maybe you can’t imagine having a deep faith, maybe you can’t imagine how your dreams will come true. But God just calls you to knock – to live one day at a time. That’s how real change happens; that’s how real new beginnings happen. The door is here when you are ready. Just knock and walk through.
One way that we can begin again is through the practice of Holy Communion. In this meal Jesus is made present to us through the bread and the cup. When we gather for this meal, we confess out sin and then join together in hearing the story of God’s salvation, and then we eat and receive the grace of Christ.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.